ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – The leader of strongman Laurent Gbagbo’s party urged die-hard militants to lay down their arms and called for national reconciliation Saturday, even as shooting erupted in a suburb of Abidjan.
Pascal Affi N’Guessan read a declaration to the nation saying “the war has ended” following Gbagbo’s arrest Monday. He urged “an end to the death of our compatriots,” saying the people of Ivory Coast must “give a chance to the restoration of peace” and halt the “revenge killings, the looting.”
Gbagbo, who has ruled since 2000, refused to accept defeat at Nov. 28 elections that he had delayed for five years. He took a last stand in Abidjan, the commercial capital, where remaining loyalist troops turned heavy weapons on civilians. He was arrested by forces loyal to internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara after U.N. and French troops bombed the presidential palace.
“The FPI is very devastated by the chaotic situation and presents its sympathies to the families of all those who have died,” said Affi N’Guessan, leader of the Ivorian Popular Front.
He spoke after shooting erupted Saturday morning in Abidjan’s sprawling Yopougon neighborhood on the outskirts of the commercial capital, where Gbagbo fighters have sought refuge and pro-Ouattara fighters were trying to disarm them, residents of the area said.
Affi N’Guessan was accompanied by Gbagbo’s former foreign minister, Alcide Djedje, who told the Associated Press that Gbagbo is under the protection of U.N. peacekeepers in northern Korhogo town, a Ouattara stronghold.
He said Gbagbo’s wife, Simone, who is accused of encouraging his intransigence, remains in Abidjan with nearly 100 other prisoners of the former regime. Ouattara’s children are being protected at an unlooted family home near the seaside resort of Grand Bassam, Djedje said.
Apart from Yopougon, the rest of Ivory Coast’s commercial capital has been largely calm for two days, with some people venturing out of their homes Saturday for the first time in two weeks.
Abidjan had been a city under siege as pro-Gbagbo forces took a last stand and turned heavy weapons on civilians.
Thousands of people have been killed and wounded, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross.
Residents burned bodies and trash in a cleanup effort. “There are too many bodies to count,” one resident said, when asked how many bodies had been burned.